Setting expectations can be extremely user-friendly. Displaying read times on websites for content fits into that category.
What are read times on websites and where do we see them?
Read times seem to be popping up all over the place. One common place is on top of blog posts.
LinkedIn also shows its own version.
LinkedIn lets users know that it will take them roughly 7 minutes to read my article. That’s good to know before deciding to click over. That same article is listed on my blog to take 10 minutes.
The times differ because both systems use different methodologies and reading speeds for the content.
Kindle also estimates how long it will take you to read my Content Performance Culture book (over 5 hours) and other books:
How are displayed read times calculated on websites?
Read times are calculated by:
Stated average reading speed x number of words in article = Reading time
From what I’ve seen, the average reading time of people can be somewhere between 200-300 words per minute. So a 300-word article, which seems short for most thought leadership or explanatory content, takes 1 minute.
What’s good about displaying read times?
It sets your expectation of how deep and long content is. I once visited a blog post and it said it would take 30-some minutes to read. That’s quite a time commitment. If I don’t have that kind of time, I may just not even start.
On the flip side, when LinkedIn tells me that the article linked to from my news feed is a 1-minute read, I might come to the conclusion that it’s just not worth clicking over for. How deep can that be?
Personally, when I see articles between 5-12 minutes I tend to assume they are worth considering reading.
How to display read times on your website (WordPress specifically)
Certainly your developer can create a functionality using the formula shared above in most – if not all Content Management Systems. Simply search for “reading time” in the WordPress plug-in repository and find an up-to-date plug-in that has not been abandoned by the developer. Install that and you should be good to go.
Usually it gives you the option to customize something like this:
- stating how many words per minute can be read
- whether or not to insert the display before content.
- Add your copy for what it should say before the number. I added: “Estimated read time:”
- Then add what it should say after the number of calculated minutes. I simply set this to “minutes.”
- Save changes
Disadvantages of displaying read times?
But there are limitations as Product Marketer Janaki Nori reminds us.
“Read times for whom? Doesn’t everyone have a different pace at which they read? I never found it useful,” she said.
Another disadvantage is that read times calculated by the above formula don’t take into account the whole experience of an article.
Keep in mind that many people, including myself, skim content online. They read the subheads and consider diving into the different sections that are of most interest. So they may read one section that is highly relevant and useful twice, while not reading other content at all.
Well-designed and thought-out content also has non-text elements.
Marketing Director Amanda Milligan shared on the Business Storytelling Podcast that publishers love graphical elements to tell stories as well as long-form content. I also love embedding podcasts. When readers pause and listen to the podcast, it will also take them longer to consume the content.
After all, read times are not total consumption times for a piece of content.
While there are downsides as a consumer and content marketer I love this feature. It gives me a quick overview of what I should expect time-wise and depth-wise. Of course, keep in mind that just because somebody can write long doesn’t mean it’s in-depth.